The evening begins awkwardly with the first meeting between Helen (Tina Benko) and Paris (Craig Baldwin). Their love-making is delivered with laugh-inducing camp -- an interesting choice and one that illuminates the human folly that leads to thousands of war casualties. After this prologue of sorts, the play shifts forward seven years to the moments when there seems to be no end in sight for the siege of Troy. And while the generals from both sides continue their battling, the doomed love affair unfolds between Troilus (Finn Wittrock, who gives a performance of impressive emotional depth) and Cressida (Dylan Moore, who could use more nuance).
Scenic designer Mark Wendland puts the action in a kind of sandbox that's initially tented with billowing red fabric. When this cloth is removed a canopy of white cloth hangs overhead and when Brian H. Scott's lighting design beats down through the material, the stage does indeed resemble a blazing hot desert. During the play's second half, when all of the fabric has been torn down, Scott's work becomes ominously dim, and the visuals contrive to make the horrors of war uncomfortably palpable.
Kulick guides many of his actors to strong performances. Benko's work deepens remarkably as the play moves forward; a moment when she must face both Menelaus (Luis Moreno), the husband she's deserted, and her lover is quite powerful. Steven Skybell offers a gorgeously spoken and exceptionally intelligent turn as Ulysses, and Elliot Villar serves up a commanding portrayal of Hector, which brings to mind a preening sports star.
In an intriguing bit of cross-gender casting, Xanthe Elbrick plays Achilles' best friend Patroclus, and she also proves exceptionally moving as Hector's wife, Andromache. Bill Christ as Ajax, the most thuggish of the Greeks, soars to almost heartbreaking heights as this soldier realizes how his compatriots have turned on him. Only Dion Mucciacito's confusingly vague interpretation of Achilles and Graham Winton's one-note rendering of Agamemnon disappoint.